no-no is like a polished diamond. Kenneth Kvarnström’s debut at the City Theatre is a dizzy success.
Kenneth Kvarnström’s term as director of the Dance Company of the Helsinki City Theatre has begun with a dizzy success. On Friday seven selected dancers from the company premiered the work no-no, in which the aggressive basic-Kvarnström and the more sensual contemporary Kvarnström meet.
The result is breathtakingly beautiful choreography – the most brilliantly polished diamond in Kvarnström’s work to date.
The beauty of the work is as hard and sparkling as top design, but the diamond also reflects many worlds. The performance is not mere surface – the mysterious soundscape takes the audience into the dimension of depth, while the choreography brings layers of the unconscious to the surface.
no-no is also diamond-like in its performance. The choreographer has purged the dancers’ movements and approximation – the partnering is clear and precise. Expression is disciplined, restrained, and presence is strong. The work includes more virtuoso duets than any of Kvarnström’s earlier choreography. In short: no-no is damned good dance-art!
In his new work Kvarnström has deliberately distanced himself from dance theatre-like expression. He is more abstract, but at the same time more authentic. Everything essential is expressed through movement, which flows uninterrupted from one scene to the next.
A dagger, a magician’s hat, a goat’s horn and a sheep’s head presereved in liquid are the sparse and slightly random points of reference of Kvarnström’s work. The stage is very minimal. It is dominated by Jens Sethzman’s set, which edges the space, functioning both as a ”substitutes” bench for the dancers and with its many compartments, also as a storage place. The main thing that is stored in the compartments is light!
The sound designer Jyrki Sandell has collaged material from makers in the Near East and North Africa into mysterious soundscape in which sound seem to echo in different acoustics – sometimes muffled, as in a dessert, sometimes as if in a temple, as when the Lebanese nun Marie Keyrouz intones her medival hymns.
The seductive melismans and mysterious messages of Islamic music has inspired Kvarnström, and perhaps it is through their direct influence that hard, slashing movements are no longer his only alternative. They are now juxtaposed with sensuousness and devotion. Nevertheless, the name of the work could not be anything but no-no, for it symbolises the ever-present conflict between desire and action.
Kvarnström uses a few aggressive movements to express the complexity of love-relationships. His sensuous world of movements includes intimacy and closeness, which cause a reaction of fear and rejection. The choreographer is able to base his work on just a few allusive elements, for he drives them through each other.
At some point after the interval, the repetition of motifs in the work results in a slight flagging of interest, but the appearance of Tove Wingren’s ”black woman” is a dramatic turning-point and lifts the work to a new climax.
The second half is, indeed a big climax, arresting ritual dance, in which African drums lead the dance ever deeper into the source of movement and magic.
Kvarnström’s vocabulary of movement also contains elemets that make reference to religious experience and the ecstasy it causes. From time to time the dancers fall to their knees, fall backward as if in an ecstatic mass meeting or rise to dizzy flights through the air with the help of their partner.
These events recall erotic experiences – the similarity between them and religious experiences has long been noted.
Raisa Punkki is the incaranation of this duality, a dancer whose quality is at the same time innocent and extremely sensual. There is cruel beauty and tender hardness in her duett with Kai Lähdesmäki. Raisa Punkki began working with the dance company only this autumn, but she has immediately proved herself to be an excellent, elastic and accurate dancer for whose body Kvarnström’s physical style seems made.
The figure of Tove Wingren, on the other hand, brings a black element to the performance. Her body is finger-curling and breathtakingly shaken by some fury.
Trios and double trios are the central choreographic element of the work and in these Kvarnström is best able to express his group idea. They sometimes recall a sister work to no-no, Verienkeli (Blood Angel) made for the National Ballet – the elbow movements and syncopations that are familiar basic elements of African dance.
In Verienkeli, the choreographer used Near Eastern music for the first time – and the graceful beautiful movemnet born of the qualities of the ballerinas. In no-no, the choreographic result is even more finished. The male dancers of the group are excellent – Unto Nuora in particular, whose neurotic quality is brilliant.
Young master of light.
The young swedish light designer Jens Sethzman introduces new ideas into light design. Breaking with general practice, he does not light entireties – the whole stage of the Elsa studio is lit only once during the whole performance – but parts, details. He shines light’s rays toward each relevant point, but he may equally leave the dancer in the dark or in half-light,
He does not use spotlights or side-lights, but rays and showers of light from high up, which are not necessarily trained on the dancers, but nearby. The lights work in the same way as in cinema, where the characters move in the borderline between light and shadow. The end result is magnificent.